Pundit Central

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

Left for dead by the commentariat last week, President Clinton is Issues 1, 2, and 3 as he rises from the dead to defy last week’s near-unanimous predictions that he would soon resign.

The pundits aren’t half as shamefaced as they should be. This WeekWith Sam and Cokie (ABC) co-host Cokie Roberts asks her colleagues what went wrong with their predictions from last week. Sam Donaldson weasels, saying that his prediction of a departing Clinton was contingent upon the allegations being proved true. George Stephanopoulos says the president’s phenomenal bounce in the opinion polls reminds him of the surge in the polls Clinton enjoyed after the first of the Gennifer Flowers eruptions in 1992. Clinton’s numbers collapsed after the surge. “People are suspending judgment, not making judgment,” Stephanopoulos says, a sentiment that Susan Page (CNN’s Late Edition) shares. Bill Kristol attempts the strangest dodge, blaming Clinton’s survival on Republicans who failed to go in for the kill.

Paul Gigot (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) lays out the president’s winning strategy: “Deny” the allegation that Monica Lewinsky fellated him; “delay” the nation’s judgment of the crisis; and “attack” his foes, mostly special prosecutor Kenneth Starr but also the alleged “right-wing conspiracy,” the press, and Lewinsky herself. (For Slate’s take on how Clinton spun the crisis, see William Saletan’s “Frame Game.”)

The attack on Starr, which the pundits echo, makes it sound as if he, and not Clinton, received a Washington kiss from an intern. On Meet the Press, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., ridicules Starr as “the Energizer Bunny of independent counsels.” Charles Krauthammer (Inside Washington) calls him “Inspector Clouseau,” while Al Hunt (CNN’s Capital Gang) describes him as “obsessed, inept.” There’s “not a lot of confidence” in Starr, adds Kristol. Blasting the office but defending the man, Pat Buchanan (The McLaughlin Group) is alone in praising Starr as “slow and conscientious.” Margaret Carlson (Capital Gang) complains about the unfair leaks emanating from Starr’s office, an odd gripe coming from a D.C. journalist, given that their business would shut down overnight if leaks were plugged. Eleanor Clift (McLaughlin Group) rips the media’s coverage of the scandal, calling it the “Doonesbury School of Journalism: reporting what could be so.”

Clinton’s genius, says Fox News Sunday’s Mara Liasson, was switching the debate from a question of whether he committed perjury or encouraged anyone else to commit perjury to the less troubling question of whether or not he had sex with Lewinsky. “As long as the story is about sex, it’s on his side,” Liasson says. Why is Clinton still doing so well with women voters in particular? Nina Totenberg (Inside Washington) giggles (literally), “We’ve accepted men’s foibles all along.” Juan Williams (Fox News Sunday) defends the president’s right to shag all the strange he wants–and to lie about it afterward. The other Fox News Sunday panelists–Liasson, Brit Hume, and Tony Snow–laugh at Williams as if he were a moron.

The State of the Union speech set the stage for the kid’s comeback, agree the pundits. “A perfect moment for him” (Mark Shields, Capital Gang). “For 74 minutes reality was suspended on Capitol Hill” (Ken Bode, PBS’s Washington Week in Review). A “home run,” says Robert Novak (Capital Gang), though he adds there is no way Clinton will pass his ambitious new programs. Novak gloats about his prescience from last week, when he said he didn’t think extramarital sex (and its complications) was sufficient to force resignation.

George Will (This Week) blames the diminution of the scandal in the public eye on conservatives (!), whose “libeling of government” has convinced the public that the government is run by liars and incompetents. When Clinton lies, they aren’t surprised and don’t care.

But Clinton’s not home free, says Gigot. All the “little needles” of doubt pricking Clinton have injured his presidency, inverting the natural order. Now Republicans want the wounded president to stay where he is, while the Democrats want his tainted flesh out of the White House so they can regroup for the midterm elections.

He’s Not One of Us: Talking to his “fellow” journalists about the upcoming presidential press conference, George Stephanopoulos tips his hand: “You guys will make him look good.” (Emphasis added.)

William Ginsburg, Genius or Idiot? Idiot, says Alan Dershowitz on Late Edition. He forfeited attorney-client confidentiality and thereby compromised his client’s rights by volunteering too much of his conversations with Lewinsky on the shows. Former Independent Counsel Joseph diGenova applauds Ginsburg, saying that he has hired another attorney to handle the legal issues so he can shape the PR battle for his client.

Punditus Interruptus, The Final Chapter:Capital Gangsters Al Hunt and Robert Novak signal an end to their rude ways this week with some of the most polite behavior ever witnessed on a political talk show (outside of the prissy Washington Week, of course). Hunt interrupts Novak only once, gently, ending the official Punditus Interruptus Tally at Hunt 6, Novak 2. Not only do Hunt and Novak make nice, they are nice to others too. Hunt asks Novak sweetly at one point if Margaret Carlson can speak. And Novak lets her speak! Earlier, Novak actually asked Carlson if he could interrupt! No, she said, “you may not.” He sat patiently as she talked.

Punditus Interruptus II, The Sequel: One moment McLaughlin Group “host” John McLaughlin is asking Pat Buchanan to “stop baiting” Eleanor Clift. The next he is snapping “Shut up!” at her as she tries to get a point in edgewise. It is unseemly behavior, even by the eye-gouging standards of political talk shows. But don’t feel sorry for Clift. Staying on that show is like staying in an abusive marriage.

Novak Outs Source: Robert Novak breaks a journalistic commandment on Capital Gang by revealing that Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox leaked information about his investigations to Novak and other reporters in background briefings 25 years ago.

Jack Shafer